MSN ditches ESPN for Fox Sports

Site to feature exclusive video from net's skeins

Microsoft’s MSN Internet network has abandoned its longtime partnership with ESPN and signed up Fox Sports as its provider of sports news and information.

Deal reps a big leg up for Foxsports.com, which languished in 10th place among online sports properties in March.

Site previously had a partnership with smaller Web portal Lycos, which generated significantly less traffic than MSN will be able to with its 350 million unique visitors per month.

Financial details weren’t available, but Fox will almost certainly be paying MSN for the additional exposure with some combination of cash, advertising revenue shares and on-air promotion.

In addition to news, Foxsports.com on MSN will feature exclusive video from net’s skeins such as “Best Damn Sports Show Period” and “Fox NFL Sunday.” The two companies will work together to sell integrated advertising packages to marketers who can be featured on Fox Sports broadcasts and across MSN.

It’s unclear what will happen to ESPN.com, which was the Net’s most popular sports property in March with over 17 million unique users compared to Foxsports.com’s 3.6 million.

Declaring the end of the two companies’ partnership “amicable,” an ESPN.com spokesman said, “We’re confident we have a leadership position and some fans we gained from MSN will stay with us.” He declined to comment on whether ESPN will seek another online partner.

If it doesn’t sign with another popular portal like Yahoo or AOL, ESPN.com may lose a substantial portion of its traffic, as much of it was derived from links on the MSN home page.